Authors: Donna Lea Simpson
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Cozy, #Historical, #Supernatural, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #werewolf, #paranormal romance, #cozy series, #Lady Anne, #Britain, #gothic romance
“I’ve missed you, too, Tony,” she whispered, her breath on his neck warm and moist.
“That wasn’t me that you saw on your property.”
“It couldn’t be you. You would never run away from me.”
“Never,” he said, holding her close. “I’m still so angry at you,” he said, squeezing more tightly. “Still so
! You put me off in Cornwall like I was some butcher’s delivery boy. I’ll not be dismissed like that again, Anne, I’m warning you.”
“Tony, let me go,” she gasped. “Please!”
He released her, whispering, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Anne.”
They lost a few more moments as he kissed her neck, nipping it and licking her earlobe.
“Who was it then?” she asked, breathless, as she leaned back in his arms and searched his gaze.
“I think you must already know,” he said, staring down into her gray eyes.
She nodded. “I have just realized. It was your twin, Julius, who you told me was dead.”
“It must be,” he agreed.
“How can that be? Tony, you told me he was dead; how can he be here in Kent?”
“On the contrary, I told you we
he was dead and buried in Upper Canada. That was very true.”
“Don’t be obscure, Tony,” she said sharply, pushing him away and fixing the lace at her décolletage. “Be direct.”
“Why the sharp tongue, my sweet adder?” he said, deliberately baiting her, touching the lace and trailing his finger over her skin.
She swatted his hand away. “Because you should know me better by now, Tony, than to feed me evasions.”
“All right,” he said with a low chuckle that rumbled through his chest. “However, if I stay still too long I will want to kiss you rather than talk, so let us walk and I’ll tell you all. It’s a long story, if I tell it as it should be told. Do you have time?”
“I do. At home, there is no one looking out for me.” So they walked, strolling down graveled pathways, past the statue of Diana toward the furthest reaches of the garden, where high hedges outlined its perimeter.
She awaited his explanation of how Julius showed up in her woods, but to her utter exasperation, he insisted on going over everything she already knew. Several years before, Tony and Julius had been traveling to Jamaica on one ship in a convoy that included Hiram Grover’s hired slave ship. They had witnessed Grover’s crew throwing ill slaves overboard to cut their losses. Both men had leaped into the Atlantic without hesitation and saved seven, among them Osei. Darkefell brought Osei to Yorkshire, and had him trained as his secretary.
Darkefell later learned that Hiram Grover had expressly given his permission to dump sickly slaves overboard.
“He may as well have been there and ordered the murders. Oh, Tony,” Anne said, leaning her head against his strong arm as they strolled. Even though she knew it all, the horror sickened her still. “How could anyone allow such an awful thing?”
“Worse than allow it, order it.”
They walked, the scent of herbs—marjoram and spicy thyme, sage and basil—and night-blooming flowers perfuming the air. As they strolled the shadowed length of a tall cypress hedge, the scent of fresh conifer clean and bright in the evening dew, he pulled her closer. “Are you warm enough?” he asked. He tucked her Kashmir shawl more closely around her shoulders and arms.
She shivered. “Why don’t you just tell me about Julius; how did you come to know he was alive? How long has he been back? Why was he on my property?”
“Anne, let me tell it my way. I do have a purpose.” He told how he and Julius, knowing from that moment that they could never be plantation owners, and by extension slaveholders, returned to England immediately and did what they could for the former slaves.
“Osei is an extraordinary fellow,” Darkefell mused, “just barely seventeen, by our reckoning, when I snatched him out of the Atlantic, but he was lit from within by a fire, a thirst for knowledge and a blazing intelligence. In a few short years he has outstripped my ability at languages, certainly.”
“I fear you may never see him again,” she said, smiling up at him in the shadowy moonlight. “Once my father finds a man of like mind, he is liable to monopolize his time.”
“Osei is, I’m sure, lonely much of the time without that kinship that comes from someone who understands him. Talking to the earl will be a relief after my obtuseness in such matters.”
“Obtuse, you? No, I would never call you that. How odd a master you are,” she said fondly, touching his cheek, “that you consider your secretary’s loneliness!”
“Ah, but my dear Anne, you are not one to speak.” He stopped and turned her around, taking her in his arms. “I have seen how you care for Mary, and it is more than as a necessary servant to tend you.”
“What a pair we are,” she admitted, laying her head against his shoulder. “Making love by speaking of our servants! I am involved in Mary’s life; why would I not want to improve it?”
life,” he said gently, lifting her chin with one finger. He kissed her again, long and deep, drinking his fill before pausing. “Good Lord, you’ve improved
, and I thought I was past the age where improvement was possible. I’ll be thirty on my next natal day.”
They were silent for a time, the moonlight encouraging more kisses. Darkefell felt his anger at her stubborn resistance to his proposals melt away. She would marry him. How could she not? He had always gotten what he wanted in life, and he wanted her.
He put his arm around her shoulders and they strolled on, her full skirts rustling against his legs, her hip against his. He told again the part of his story about Hiram Grover, how the man, on the verge of bankruptcy, though no one knew it, tried to both collect insurance on the slaves his crew threw overboard and sue Darkefell for his “property”—the seven freed slaves—back.
“I was furious,” Darkefell recalled. “How dare he, when those were men and women his hired men had tossed overboard like so much refuse? Even his desperation to hold on to his estate does not excuse it. He had made foolish investments, then mortgaged his estate to fund that expedition. Bad choice after bad choice.”
She turned her head to look up at him and pulled away. “But Tony, what does that old history have to do with Julius being alive? And my seeing him here, in my woods? What was he doing here?”
“Julius’s reappearance is tied in with the deaths of Tilly Landers,” he said, mentally wincing over having to bring up the name of his one-time lover, “and that of Miss Fanny Allengate.”
“Why don’t we sit for a while. There is a bench just beyond that hedge.” She pointed to a high yew hedge.
“Ah, a private retreat,” he murmured, kissing her ear. “Good.”
They circled the hedge and found the bench in a shadowed alcove. Neither spoke at once, as they sat. First there were heated kisses to share, and caresses. Darkefell found it increasingly awkward to hide his physical condition, and she once brushed her hand accidentally over his groin; she drew away swiftly, but not before he leaped at the sensation, a sharp bite of need thrumming through him. He swung one leg over the bench and pulled her close, settling her in an intimate posture, her hip butted against his groin. Her kisses after that, her fingers threaded through his hair and brushing the nape of his neck, drove him to the brink of disgracing himself.
“Why did you behave so cavalierly, Anne, in Cornwall?” he muttered.
“Cavalier?” She drew away from him and gazed into his eyes, her hands on his shoulders. “I just asked for time to think!”
“But you warned me to stay away, as if I was a dog you were putting to heel. I won’t be treated like that, not even by the woman I love!”
“Let’s not argue, Tony,” she said, moving away from him. “You have yet to tell me about Julius.”
He sighed, but gave in. Kissing her more that moment was not a particularly wise employment of his time. “I was talking about Grover suing for the return of his “property,” and claiming insurance on the dead slaves. I thwarted that, of course. Told authorities what had really happened.” Hiram Grover had claimed the slaves were disposed of because the ship was in danger of running out of water for the crew, an outright lie, but one that, if believed, would have been accepted as good enough reason to murder however many Africans. “That all set the seal of enmity between us and led to him trying to destroy my family by starting that damned werewolf rumor, and then by murdering poor Cecilia Wainwright.”
“If she had not thought to blackmail Hiram Grover, she would still be alive,” Anne said gently. “There was nothing you could have done to prevent it.”
“If I had known the future …” He shook his head. “The awful events began with Tilly Lander’s dead body being found at the bottom of Staungill Force.”
Anne gasped. “Do you think Hiram Grover killed her?”
Darkefell frowned and shrugged. “I don’t know. Why would he? I can’t imagine it.” He swept a lock of hair out of his eyes. “But I do think he wrote the letter that led to her body being found, and suspicion being pointed toward us, at Darkefell. It
to have been Hiram Grover who wrote that anonymous note, meaning to embarrass me at least; it claimed the writer had seen me there, and implied I had pushed her to her death because she was carrying my child.”
“But you didn’t and she wasn’t,” she said.
“No, of course not. She was with child, but it wasn’t mine.”
“But why do you think Hiram wrote the note? What makes you believe that?”
He shook his head. “I suppose it could have been anyone who wrote that note. It was common knowledge that Tilly and I had … that we had been together, brief as our affair was.” He looked up, examining the night sky, watching the stars, anything that would allow him to avoid the steady gaze of the woman he now loved. It was exceedingly awkward to be speaking of a former lover to the woman he wished to marry. “But whoever it was had to either be her murderer or know she would be found there dead. Not necessarily the same thing, I suppose.”
“You don’t know who the father of her unborn child was?” Anne asked.
“No. She was, as they say, generous with her affections,” he said carefully. Anne had castigated him once for speaking of the young woman carelessly. “I only know it wasn’t me.”
“I’m becoming confused, Tony. I still don’t understand what any of this has to do with Julius.”
“Patience, Anne. That damned anonymous note, that I am now assuming Grover sent to the magistrate, prompted Julius to claim that
was the one seen with her, and that he saw her fall accidentally from the top of Staungill Force. Idiot. I suppose he feared that the note might be true, even though I said it wasn’t.”
“You’re identical twins; I’ve heard that is a powerful bond.”
“It is. Anyway, it was the wrong thing to do, for it just attracted suspicion to him. When it appeared that he was about to be arrested for Tilly’s murder, he decided that instead of relying on Magistrate Pomfroy’s intelligence and rationality—neither of which traits the man has in any measure—he would go to Upper Canada. I knew he longed for adventure, so I gave him money.” He shook his head. “The next we heard he was dead and buried, the victim of an accident at a logging camp.”
“But that was not true.”
“No, but we all believed it. Mother grieved deeply for her favorite son.”
“Favorite? Surely not. John is her youngest, you the heir.”
“No, Julius is her favorite. Ask Nan Patterson.”
He spoke of his childhood nanny, who lived in a cottage on Darkefell property, pensioned and well cared for. Anne had met her on her visit to Yorkshire.
“I began to hear murmurings of a strange man and dog seen on our property. It didn’t take long to find out that the man being hidden by Eddy Carter at his hut in the hills was not his ne’er-do-well son Neddy, but my own twin, Julius, back from the dead. He missed home, he said, and thought it might all have blown over. I wouldn’t let him see Mother, afraid someone would find out and turn him in to Pomfroy.”
“You mean Lady Darkefell didn’t know he was home then?”
“No, she never did, all those months,” he said grimly. “Though she does now, thanks to your letter.”
“Oh, Tony, I’m sorry,” Anne cried, knowing how difficult the dowager marchioness could be when crossed.
“No, this is entirely my fault. I should have been honest with her. She is traveling down to stay at our hunting box near Canterbury, Hawk Park. She wants so badly to see Julius, so I do hope I can effect that tender reunion between mother and prodigal son.” He shook his head. “Damn. That sounded bitter. I don’t mean to be.”
“But the trouble has not abated, it seems?” Anne asked. “So he cannot come out into the open yet?”
“No. When he first came back, I thought we could come clean and free him of suspicion, but before we could clear up the whole mess about Tilly Landers, Fanny Allengate was killed.”
“But what did he have to do with that?”
“Nothing, but you read her diaries,” he said, reminding Anne of the journals they had both read in an attempt to figure out what was going on at Darkefell’s estate. “Julius met Miss Allengate a few times up on Staungill Force and kissed her. In the moonlight she thought it was me, and apparently began a silly fantasy of being in love with me. I did
meet her, though, and never encouraged her fantasy about me.”
“I don’t think I like your brother much, Tony,” Anne said, “if he would conduct himself in such a way with a vulnerable girl like Miss Allengate.”
“He didn’t think there was any harm in it; he’s thoughtless on occasion but never deliberately cruel. When Julius and I were young bucks in London we used to play games, switch off with each other. We have known the Allengates all our lives. He knew that Miss Allengate was aware of the social boundaries between her and me. She would never have expected marriage from the marquess. I’m afraid she was a rather silly girl, or she would have immediately known the difference between myself and Julius.”
“I was fooled,” Anne pointed out, her tone sharp.
“From a distance,” he said gently, “and only seeing him for a few seconds. If you kissed Julius, I think … I hope … you would know it wasn’t me.” He touched her hair and caressed her neck.